TORONTO - Expectations are sky high given the amount of talent being produced, but Canada Basketball GM Steve Nash is trying to temper expectations.
Nash and senior men’s head coach Jay Triano met with the media on Monday morning, ahead of a big summer for Canada’s ascending program.
“This really is the golden age of Canadian basketball,” Nash started off.
“We plan to build upon this momentum over the next three years as we look toward the 2016 Olympics and beyond. Our immediate goal is to prepare the team over the next month to be in the best possible position to secure a berth to next year’s FIBA World Cup."
First, the squad will meet Jamaica for a couple of tune-ups in Toronto next week in advance of the Tuto Marchand Cup, which goes in late August in Puerto Rico.
From there, the big test will come when Canada competes at the FIBA Americas Championship in Venezuela in early September with that worlds berth on the line.
With a number of key building blocks absent for competitions this summer for a variety of reasons, Nash preached caution, saying the best years for the program are still down the road (2016, 2019 and 2020, in particular), but still indicated that this group should be highly competitive.
“We’re desperate to qualify but we may not. We have to stick to the plan and the plan is to develop our players,” he said.
“There was a time in this country when people would look down on you if your goals were too high in this game. Thats no longer the case.”
Indeed, with NBAers Tristan Thompson (Cleveland, Brampton-born), Cory Joseph (San Antonio, Pickering), Andrew Nicholson (Orlando, Mississauga) and Joel Anthony (Miami, Montreal) on hand, along with talented veterans like Carl English (St. John's), Andy Rautins (Syracuse), Jevohn Shepherd (Scarborough) and Jermaine Anderson (Toronto), there is talent on hand not previously seen on one Canuck roster.
Nash and Canada Basketball president/CEO Wayne Parrish believe Triano is the ideal man to make the eclectic roster of young and old work.
“There’s a real balance here. Jay is I believe a master at being able to help knit those kinds of pieces together and create a fabric of a team,” Parrish told the Sun.
“That’s why Jay’s the perfect coach. Someone who has been in the NBA for a long time now, but also was in the international game for a career. He can help bridge the gap,” Nash added.
No. 1 overall NBA selection Anthony Bennett (Cleveland, Brampton) will be around, but won’t play due to an injury and No. 13 selection Kelly Olynyk (Boston, Kamloops via Toronto), coming off of a dominant summer league, will also strictly watch due to plantar fasciitis. As well, Canada’s top prospect, Thornhill’s Andrew Wiggins, will be absent as he focuses on preparing for his freshman season at Kansas.
Point guard Tyler Ennis (Brampton, also preparing for his freshman year, at Syracuse) might drop by, but isn’t expected to play and another elite teenager, Trey Lyles will not be with the senior group yet.
However, the 18 players in camp (about five participants are expected to be cut) still give Canada its strongest roster since Nash and assistant GM Rowan Barrett suited up over a decade ago.
“We have a great depth of talent and I am keeping close watch over all of our players in every age-group. This team will be built over time from the emergence of our young players and the leadership of our veterans,” Triano said.
“Our staff is dedicated to making the most of our time together in camp to prepare for the challenges ahead. We'll grow as a team and face the future together — I can’t wait to get started.”
Gone are the days when Canada lagged far behind the rest of the hoops world in terms of experience.
“Instead of having this big, long jump or vision or imagination to get to the top level, they’re right there fighting against these guys everyday and they’re proving every day that they can do it and I think that’s a major difference from when I was coming up through the ranks,” Nash said.
Workouts will take place on the Raptors’ practice court at the Air Canada Centre this week and the games against Jamaica at Ryerson are on Aug. 8 and 10.
The senior squad can cap what has been a strong summer for the Canadian men’s program.
Canada’s student team went 15-2 record this summer and finished fourth at the FISU Summer Universiade. The Junior National team was sixth — its highest-ever finish — at the FIBA U19 World Championship. The U16 squad captured the bronze medal at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship and secured a berth at next year’s World Championship.
As well, Brampton’s Anthony Bennett became the first Canuck selected No. 1 overall at the NBA draft and Kelly Olynyk went 13th.
“We’ve got to make it all work when they hit the court, but there’s tremendous excitement, tremendous enthusiasm,” said Canada Basketball president/CEO Wayne Parrish of a process that began for the senior men a year ago when Steve Nash and Jay Triano were repatriated.
“To see this explosion and depth of talent at the next level is something that I’ve never predicted and it’s phenomenal to see,” Nash said.